In providing summarized data related to tile manufacturing and use — from the raw material extraction process to disposal of tile at the end of its life — the EPD focuses on the green building community’s top concerns, including energy and resource consumption and emissions to air, land and water. The environmental impacts measured and the methodology for measuring them were dictated by the North American Product Category Rule (PCR) for flooring EPDs. By following this standard, the ceramic tile EPD reports the environmental facts of ceramic tile in a manner similar to that used in other flooring EPDs, resembling the way standardized nutrition labeling is used for food to inform and simplify consumers’ choices.
When using this EPD alongside other flooring products’ EPDs, one thing is clear: ceramic tile has the lowest 60-year environmental impact per square foot (and per square meter) across all major impact categories: global warming, abiotic resource depletion, acidification, smog formation, eutrophication, and ozone depletion. These are the most commonly referenced environmental impact categories relating to how the manufacture and use of a product will affect the well-being of humans and our environment. And third-party certification of the EPD by sustainability leader UL Environment ensures the included information is accurate, not unsubstantiated marketing claims or other attempts at “greenwashing.” In short, the certified EPD provides the breadth of multi-attribute environmental reporting and the validity of information that building designers and owners are increasingly demanding, for better informed product selection with respect to sustainability.
The North American-made ceramic tile EPD and LEED
In the latest iteration of LEED (Version 4), specifying tile covered by EPDs can help satisfy requirements for up to two points under the LEED credit category Building Product Disclosure and Optimization—Environmental Product Declarations. The purpose of this credit category is “to encourage the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically and socially preferable lifecycle impacts, and to reward project teams for selecting products from manufacturers who have verified improved environmental life-cycle impacts,” according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Accordingly, of the two available points, one is awarded simply for using transparent products: products with environmental impacts that are made known and reported by an EPD or life cycle assessment (LCA), regardless of what the actual impacts are. Specifically, to earn this LEED point the specifier must use at least 20 different permanently installed products that are sourced from at least five different manufacturers and that have either a critically reviewed LCA, a generic (industry-wide) EPD or a proprietary (product-specific) EPD. A product with a critically reviewed LCA counts as ¼ of a product, while a product with a generic EPD counts as ½ of a product, and a product with a proprietary EPD counts as a full product.
In totaling up products, there are two additional factors to be aware of. First, products that meet multiple criteria are eligible only for the highest valuation available; the valuations cannot be combined. So even though a product covered by an EPD has a critically reviewed LCA — a byproduct of EPD development — the product provides more value having an EPD. Secondly, the valuations are awarded on a per-product basis. This means each product covered by a generic EPD can be counted as ½ of a product. Those for which proprietary EPDs are available, either exclusively or in addition to a generic EPD, offer specifiers the full one product valuation each.
For example, for a project with 10 different tiles covered by the generic tile EPD, these tiles would contribute at least 5 products (10 tiles X .5 products contribution) toward the 20-product requirement. In the same example, if 3 of the 10 tiles also had proprietary EPDs, the 10 tiles would contribute a total of 6.5 products (three for the three tiles that have proprietary EPDs, and 3.5 for the seven tiles that don’t.) By adding up “products” in this way, design professionals work toward fulfilling the 20-product requirement for the building to be awarded the point.
The second LEED point available under this credit category — for products with EPDs — rewards the use of products with lower environmental impacts. Specifically, it is awarded if at least 50% of the permanently installed products — as measured by their total value — have lower environmental impacts than the industry average for its product type in at least three of the listed impact categories: global warming potential, ozone depletion potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, photo-oxidant formation potential and fossil abiotic depletion potential.
Take, for example, a project with $1 million in permanently installed products, including $100,000 worth of a floor tile covered by the generic tile EPD. If, compared to the generic tile EPD, the tile’s proprietary EPD shows lower environmental impacts as required, this tile would contribute 10% toward the 50% requirement. Thus, here too the generic tile EPD can be beneficial, as it establishes a means for comparison to tiles it covers that additionally have proprietary EPDs.
LEED provisions relating to EPDs evidence increasing emphasis on transparency in green construction. They also show how standards can incentivize the even greater transparency achieved by proprietary EPDs by rewarding specification of products that have them, as well as specification of “more sustainable” products based upon comparison to a generic EPD counterpart.
The North American ceramic tile EPD was developed in response to these emerging marketplace demands for transparency — also reflected in numerous other green construction standards — to give the design community the desired documentation on today’s most important environmental considerations. With the vast majority of tile produced in North America covered by the EPD, virtually all North American-made ceramic tile can contribute toward LEED and various other provisions in green standards, making it a powerful and useful tool for specifiers concerned with sustainable construction. Future articles will explain how specifying tiles covered by the EPD can contribute toward points, credits and compliance in other green standards and rating systems such as Green Globes, CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools), ASHRAE Standard 189.1, the 2015 International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the 2014 GSA Facilities Standards for Public Buildings, the California Green Building Code for non-residential construction and the 2012 NAHB National Green Building Standard.
Production of the North American Ceramic Tile EPD was a collaborative effort of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and its participating members, with data analysis and modeling by PE International and third party independent certification by UL Environment. To download the full text of the EPD and the related transparency report, visit www.TCNAtile.com.